Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Re-Experiencing Starbucks

Posted by Becky Carroll on February 1, 2008

coffeecup.jpg Special Project: Jay Ehret of The Marketing Spot and Becky Carroll of Customers Rock!

Howard Schultz has returned to Starbucks and promises a return to the customer experience. We salute that announcement. Starbucks holds a special place in our heart and we want to do our part to help Howard get it right.

Inspired by John Moore’s 2007 Manifesto : WHAT MUST STARBUCKS DO?, Jay and I have decided to work with Howard (even though he hasn’t hired us) to help Starbucks improve their customer experience in 2008.

Today we begin a series of posts that will continue throughout the year. We will analyze the current Starbucks experience, make suggestions for improvement, and then compare at the end of the year. You are invited to contribute with your comments and suggestions; let us know what you see/don’t see changing about the customer experience at the Starbucks you visit!

Jay already has his post up, which includes a letter to Howard and some commentary.   Here is my take on the “state of the Starbucks experience.”

It’s All About Customers

I am very glad to hear Mr. Schultz’s plan to put customers at the center of business decisions.  Starbucks used to focus on being what they called the “third place” – not home, not work, but somewhere in-between the two where people could come to relax and talk.  When I lived in the UK, I found something similar in their pubs.  That was where people went to relax, have something to drink or eat, and meet up with friends. 

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Starbucks over the coming months.  I understand that more details are coming in March.  In the meantime, here are some Customers Rock! observations about the current Starbucks experience in my neck of the woods, San Diego.

Kudos Here

One of the best things about the Starbucks experience is the baristas. 

At every Starbucks I have ever gone into, the employees are always friendly, smiling, and helpful.  They know the names of their regulars and chat with them upon sight.  They are patient at explaining things patrons don’t understand (there is quite a lingo to learn).  They always listen to kids when they place their orders, viewing them as important (and future!) customers.  They are polite and quick to help when there is a problem (like a spill), never making someone feel bad.  They apologize when there is a wait and thank you for their business.  Starbucks, your employees rock!

They have a nice atmosphere with music and soft, comfy chairs in one area.

We always scope out those soft armchairs when we go in.  They make the environment feel friendly and more like being in someone’s living room.  (Not all Starbucks have this, though.)  The background music is great, and it is kind of fun being able to see that on an iPod now (for possible purchase).

Room for Improvement Here

Improve the store navigation.

Starbucks, like other companies, has expanded their offerings beyond coffee and drinks.  I find that this is often difficult to do well.  In the case of Starbucks, their aisles are now so full of displays of coffee mugs, espresso machines, and bagged coffee that it can become difficult to navigate the store.

starbucks-line.jpg For example, I took this picture today during the morning rush.  It was a little hard not to knock into some of the display items (a major concern for young moms with their toddlers) on my way to place my order in this queue.  Harder still was navigating my way back out!  I couldn’t go down this line in reverse, and on the other side of the display were the ordering stations.

One look into a Starbucks of late appears to be more of a retail shop than a coffee shop.  And people hate being sold to all the time.

Encourage people to stay awhile.

More comfortable chairs (only a few of those aforementioned soft chairs are in each store, and some don’t have any) would be great.  Also, if Starbucks is looking to encourage those with laptops, slightly larger tables would be handy (hard to put a laptop, coffee, and pastry on the table at the same time).  One of my local Starbucks has a nice laptop station, like you might find in a library, with a long table which could accommodate multiple laptops.  It has a power strip down the middle and some low lighting.

Jay also mentioned the high cost of WiFi, which I won’t go into here but do agree with as it is a great way to get customers to stay longer and buy more.

If employees aren’t too busy serving other customers or cleaning/prepping for later, they could offer to clear away cups, etc, for current patrons while they are wiping down tables.  Just a nice touch to consider.

Decide what to do about the food.

I have seen press that states Starbucks will no longer offer the breakfast sandwiches because their aroma overtakes the wonderful smell of coffee.  I haven’t personally noticed that, but I have noticed that most pastries are very dry.  Choose the food you will offer (don’t forget to ask your customers what they want!) and do it well.  Don’t try to be everything to everyone.

Most importantly, spend more time finding out what customers want.

What are the Starbucks customers’ needs and preferences?  Mr. Schultz has referred to comments from baristas as a way he gets input on what works and what doesn’t, which is great!  Talking to the front line employees is very helpful in finding out what to improve.  However, I would like to see more effort spent on finding out what customers like by asking them directly.  Perhaps Starbucks is doing a lot of this already (I do know they sometimes hand out special survey codes with receipts), but it isn’t being discussed right now in the press releases. 

Talk to the different types of customers you get and see what each type would like to have.  For example, those young moms might like to have a changing table in the restroom.  Students, business people, and travelers will all have their specific needs as well.  Who is the Starbucks target/ideal customer?   Starbucks shouldn’t cater to everyone, but they should definitely understand their most loyal customers – and take care of them.  If they can do that, there won’t be a need to offer $1 cups of mini-coffee or worry about losing customers to other chains.

What do you see? 

That’s it for now.  Jay and I will be keeping an eye on how the Starbucks experience changes over these upcoming months and will be reporting back what we observe.  Please send in your observations, comments, and suggestions.  Alternatively, comment on your blog and let us know; we’ll refer to your post with a link.  I have seen some good links on Glenn Ross’s blog, including a reference to a barista blog.

Let’s help Starbucks get back to offering a fabulous experience!


26 Responses to “Re-Experiencing Starbucks”

  1. Great idea! I will participate. I worked at the Seattle Support Center for four years and can tell you that merchandise sales also was an issue then. The store I frequent has a great mix, where the merchandise is 90% coffee related in that it is made up of whole beans and coffee-making tools. However, I truly become annoyed by the cutesy cups, stuffed animals and anything that is not related to brewing a great cup of coffee.

    Howard, don’t crowd store shelves with anything not related to brewing. As for cups, no holiday themes. And don’t sell books or CDs in the stores. Focus on your core purpose.

  2. Lewis (and Becky),

    Hate to be the corporate voice here, but the merchandise and retail ARE necessary. even if you charge $5.00 for a small cup of coffee (not a suggestion) you can only make so much money. Retail stores are the place to make money with appropriately placed and marketed products.

    However, in virtually all SBUX I have been, and there are quite a few, the merchandise is placed between the door and the coffee. It can be placed more strategically so there is space to walk around, have a coffee experience (that third place), and then – if you want / need – you can proceed to the retail floor. After all, I don’t know anyone who is waiting in line to order and says to themselves “gee, I think i will buy a frother for the house”. People who shop at SBUX do it with a purpose…

    And, while asking, I saw recently that the iTunes/SBUX relationship has ended… that was a good one and key part of the experience… I’d suggest they bring it back, or find another way to tie music and coffee.

    Oh yeah, keep the breakfast sandwiches… I only been to one that has them, none of them in Reno – in case you are wondering where to put one next, in CA and they are good quality and flavor.

  3. VERY cool idea Becky! I really like all you suggested, and I have some new ideas that would make weekends even more fun!

    One of the things I would like to see Starbucks do is to take Saturdays and make them Starbucks University days, where you can learn how to grind your own Starbucks beans, use those beautiful coffee makers, and create your own masterpieces. Offer graduates of Starbucks U the opportunity to “guest barista” (with appropriate supervision) with the tips going to charity.

    Another idea: Offer the kids a chance to create their own private label hot cocoa, 2 pounds, 1 for them and 1 for a friend.

    Yes, these may get away from the core of Starbucks coffee mentality, but if they’re looking for a 3rd place where families want to go, making weekends fun would go a LONG way in this.

  4. This is very interesting, Becky!

    I’ll definitely share my Starbucks experience. Would you believe here in Makati, considered the country’s premier business district, you will find a Starbucks in every corner, or 100 meters apart on a street. =)

    It will be myStarbucks (Philippine) experience. 🙂 Keep at it!

  5. Lewis, thank you for bringing your Starbucks experience (literal) to the table. Coffee-based merchandise is great, but in this particular case, it was clogging up the store to the extent that it was difficult to walk through (or exit, for that matter). A small selection out front is great – and coffee-related makes the most sense. If Starbucks still wants to be a “third place”, they should think about the experience from that perspective. Keep ’em coming, Lewis!

    Esteban, thank you for your perspective on merchandise, breakfast sandwiches, and store layouts. If we keep looking from the customer’s point of view, I think the right anwers will become more clear for the Starbucks team. Let me know what you see over the next few months!

    Phil, I love your ideas about how to bring more of a family-oriented 3rd place atmosphere to Starbucks. Customer engagement at retail is a great way to get them coming back and bringing their friends (and their friends and their kids). Being a “guest barista” would be fun! Please keep reporting in from the mid-west, Phil. Be great!

    Meikah, thanks for chiming in from Asia. I am a little surprised at how many Starbucks you have in such a small area – I thought we were the only ones who had that. Please feel free to be our Asian correspondent on this project. 🙂

  6. K Jones said

    I’d settle for the company being responsive to complaints and actually being concerned about giving customers what they paid for instead of trying to cut corners. I stopped buying from them altogether two months ago for several reasons:

    (1) Every time I ordered the staff would constantly annoy me with “Would you like…?”, trying to urge me to buy a more expensive drink or cold coffee. There is no such thing as “iced” coffee, I don’t care if others disagree, I am the one paying for it, so I decide what is ordered and made. They should stop whoring products and get the core products right if they want to make more money.

    (2) Despite the number of times I had bought from the same store near where I work, and despite the fact that I ordered the same drink every single time (Americano, large or “grande”) and had never ordered anything different, and every cashier knew my face, name and choice of drink, they still tried to sell me other drinks and cold coffee. After three months of 4-5 days per week, intelligent people would get a clue; clearly, the people at that store weren’t intelligent.

    (3) The store started cutting back on shots in coffee to save money, then lying and saying, “We’ve always put in that many!” Total bull. They were shortchanging customers and wouldn’t admit it, and this was the point where I became annoyed and stopped buying from them since they were ripping me off.

    (4) After they started shortchanging customers, I wrote to the head office in words no stronger (actually, less so) than I am using here. Despite writing several times over a two week period, they chose to ignore me.

    Unless they come to me on bended knees, apologize, drop their prices by a third, and start getting my order right instead of trying to sell things I didn’t ask for, they can forget about having my business. I’ll stick with McRotten’s coffee until then (at least they never screw up the order) or continue to make my own and take a thermos to work.

    And by the by, Meikah isn’t the only one in Asia; I’m Canadian, but work in Taiwan.

  7. Kami Huyse said

    Becky; This is a great idea and a fun project, but so far there is one voice missing. Starbucks. I will watch to see if they are actually listening here.

  8. Becky, how fascinating! I love what you are proposing and the ideas that Meikah, Lew, Phil and Estaban offer. Great project. Thanks for taking it on and spreading the word.

  9. Almost forgot — Paco Underhill has consulted with Starbucks and discussed the difficulty inherent to showcasing and selling the non-coffee merchandise. When you are waiting in line, it makes sense to have items that people can consider, but how often is that merchandise placed close to where you wait? Too often I notice it after I’ve paid, or when I’m waiting to pick up my brew.

    Also, how to promote the impulse items when the counter area is so small and so crammed?

    I love my Starbucks lattes. I don’t enjoy their food. The baked goods often don’t seem fresh or interesting enough and the sandwiches disappoint…

    Kami – great point!

  10. You already hit on the two things that I think Starbucks needs to do:

    1. Free wifi
    2. Better baked goods

    Great topic, by the way!

  11. eamon1972 said

    Nice to see a blog focused on customers! (I remember someone telling me once, ages ago, that it is all about customers …)

    How about a few books / newspapers / magazines for people to read in Starbucks (I haven’t seen them over here in the UK).

  12. […] Posted on February 7, 2008 by Paul Schwartz   I’ve been asked by Becky Carroll of Customers Rock!, who is joining Jay Ehret (Marketing Spot) on a project to track Howard Shultz’s efforts to get […]

  13. Its quite an interesting idea to “consult” Starbucks via blogs. I wish you much luck.
    There’s one thing puzzling about your text and the other comments: hardly anybody seems to mention the coffee.
    Starbucks has not had much success in Germany, where I live. And to me, this is quite obvious.
    The first and last time I was in a Starbucks was in New York about six years ago. I had heard about Starbucks throuqh our newspapers and was quite curious to get the Starbucks experience for myself. – But what was that: expensive vanilla flavored coffee in paper cups!
    I don’t know if it has to be that way commercially (expensive) and I don’t know if I am the only one preferring coffee that tastes very much like coffee from porcelain cups, but to me this explains, why Starbucks has limited success in Germany.
    My personal favorite coffee bars are definitely in Italy. The baristas are usually not particularly friendly but the coffee and the food are outstanding most of the time.
    Isn’t it possible to have such a great quality in a franchise type of business?

  14. […] Feb 2008 Early this month, Becky Carroll of Customers Rock! enjoined us to be part of the “re-experiencing starbucks challenge.” Becky was inspired by John Moore’s Manifesto: What Must Starbucks Do? So […]

  15. […] laser-focused on our customers”.  Many of you left comments on the last post, which introduced the Starbucks experience project, and mentioned you would like to see free WiFi at Starbucks (Jay also mentioned it in his first […]

  16. […] Improve the Customer Experience – The Second Step 24 Feb 2008 Still in the spirit of Becky’s Re-experiencing Starbucks and John Moore’s Manifesto: What Must Starbucks Do? I am sharing here my observations about […]

  17. […] Becky Carroll is also writing about the Starbucks experience; check out the Starbucks Manifesto by John Moore and the year long Starbucks Project.  Even if you don’t drink coffee, the Customer Service ideas and thoughts are worth your time. […]

  18. jayr said

    Im from thePhilippines and “The Starbucks Experience” here is tremendously great. Human connection is what sets apart Starbucks from other competitor. Not just a simple “hi” or “good morning”, they will really make sure that they have initiated a conversation with you in the most genuine way.
    By the way i found a great site!!

  19. […] Do You Care? Posted on April 24, 2008 by Paul Schwartz   I have been participating in the Re-Experiencing Starbucks Project, and this had pushed me to keep a closer eye on the company and the strategy being put into play by […]

  20. […] Re-Experiencing Starbucks […]

  21. […] been asked by Becky Carroll of Customers Rock!, who is joining Jay Ehret (Marketing Spot) on a project to track Howard Shultz’s efforts to get […]

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  23. […] Related Posts: A Letter to Howard Schultz at Starbucks Re-Experiencing Starbucks […]

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